Bad Heraldic Art - Good Heraldic Art - or
Mostly Period Design
Heraldic Collegium, November 15, AS XXXVIII (2003)
Dame Teleri Tawel, OL

Examples are taken from Foster, Joseph, The Dictionary of Heraldry, 1989, Arch Cape Press. ISBN 0-517-68638-4. Dates are given if available. Lecture illustrations may only be based on the examples, due to material limitations. Blue text represents armory for which Foster had no examples.

There is Good Art. There is Heraldic Art. And there is Good Heraldic Art. Modern notions of Art – its simplicity and impressiveness, symmetry and balance, composition, and colour -- are not necessarily medieval notions of Art.

Registerable or Illegal?
  • Telling your life on One Shield
  •       (1) My husband’s first notion of a device for himself was, um, too informative. Armory is for identification. Anything that lessens that, reduces its effectiveness as Heraldic Art. Telling as much as you can about yourself is NOT the purpose of armory, and usually generates unregisterable armory.
      (2) A field of flowers, a starry sky (using her boyfriend’s cross), a unicorn for her purity, a fire-y border for her passion. Your first reaction should be “Ugh! Too busy!” even if it is registerable. [Your 2nd reaction should be: She draws fiddlely bits! Teleri will want to make her into a backup artist!]
    [Male version: Per fess urdy sable and argent, within a bordure embattled, 2 skulls with crossbones and a Spanish galleon under full sail all counterchanged]
  • (3) The Ravenswood Risk. Beware of “modern Celtic”; it may be copyright/trademark violation.
    Modern or Period?
  • The Case of the Castle (size & position = recognizability)
  • (4) Sable within and conjoined to a bordure a friendly castle Or.
    Sometimes simplicity is too modern. If it isn’t immediately recognizable – this looks like an “H” – it is not good heraldic art.
  •   (5) The period version of that same idea.
    Pg.42, Henry Cardelecke: Azure, a castle triple turreted Or. 1418.
  • However, the position, even of a period depiction, can reduce its recognizability.
    Pg. 62, Robt Dancastre: Or on a bend azure, three castles triple turreted argent.
    [Aside: My limited survey of Foster indicated that, even though one might think the simplest form of a tertiary would be in the colour of the field. In fact, if one was Argent, the other was frequently Or]
  • Standardize Positions or Why we don’t like Meatloaf
  • (7) Cat wash, a non-standard position. Please don’t do this. The chief reason for standardized position is recognizability. If a critter rampant is generally a lion, then you need not be a Superb Artist in order to paint a shield. The more common the shape and position, the more recognizable the art.
    Pg.4, Nicol le Archer: Sable, a lyon rampant Or.
  • (8) Period meatloaf = rabbits Pg.186, Adam de Strode: Argent, a chevron between three conies sable.
  • What is Symmetry? --or-- The waltz, can-can, and prison-break
  • (9) “The waltz.” Combattant was non-existent in my survey of Foster’s illustrations. It is a very modern notion of symmetry that tends to equate with reflection.
  • (10) “The can-can.”
    Pg.126, implied by Adam de Lechmere: Gules a fess and in chief two pelicans Or.
    This form of medieval symmetry had only the single representation in my survey.
  • (11) Pg.41, Hugh Calkin: Argent, a pale between two greyhounds erect sable. 1345.
    This form of “the can-can” was better represented.
  • (12) “The prison-break.”
    Pg.199, Sire de Wadripun: Or two lyons rampant addorsed gules.
    This was well represented although it actually has some of the same “modern feel” as “the waltz.”
  • (13) Pg.156, Walter Pedwardwyn: Gules, 2 lyons passant in pale Or. “Stacking.” This was the most common form of two of an animal. To the medieval mind, this, too, is symmetry.
  • One of these things is Not Like the Other
  • (14) Lion & Unicorn. This is perhaps the most common use of animals in SCA heraldry but, finding no instances of it in my limited survey, I can’t help but wonder if it arose from marshalling or from the use of supporters.
  • (16) Quarterly with two animals was another common type of symmetry, albeit it is not “legal” in SCA heraldry due to the appearance of marshalling.
    Pg.9, Wm. Bardwell: Gules a goat saliant, Or, quarterly with, Or, an eagle displayed vert. 1418.
  • (15) Stacking two different animals, under the principle of Illustration (13), had no examples. However, there were stackings of animal and thing.
    Pg.132, implied by John de Lovedale: Sable, a bugle horn argent, on a chief of the second a lyon passant gardant Or. 1345.
  • Moons (more subtle symmetry)
  •   (17) Very modern but actually uses three different charges and so is heraldically complex.
      (18) It is sometimes found in “Wicca combinations.”
      (19) Medieval Crescent symmetry. Implied by (20).
      (20) Pg.199, Gerard Wachesham: Argent, a fess and in chief three crescents gules.
      (21) Pg.89, John Fitz Simon: Sable, a fess between three crescents argent. 1322.
  • The Face in the Shield (pumpkin carving)
  • (22) A form of symmetry sometimes seen in the SCA of which the submitter should be made aware so that he knows he is deliberately choosing such an arrangement.
    Pg.47, implied by Hugh Cholmondeley: Gules, two helmets in chief argent and in base a garb Or.
    If the Space Fits….
  • One, Three, Six: the medievally heraldically common arrangements
  • (23) Pg.163, Porcher: Argent, a cinquefoyle pierced gules.
  • (24) Pg.150, John d’Okinton: Or, three roses gules.
  • (25) Pg.92, Symond Frysell: Sable six roses argent.
  • (26) Pg. 91, Maheu de Forneus: Gules a bend between six marlets Or. [w/ordinary: Bun Bun]
  • Bend to fit
  • (27) Placement on an ordinary can cramp the recognizability of a charge. For good heraldic art, a complex charge should be given enough room to be clearly identified.
  • (28) Palewise, these needles are recognizeable although, at a distance, they may not show up. Placed bendwise, end to end, they become a thin white line and tend to lose their identity at any significant distance.
    Pg.43, implied by Robt de Causton: Argent, on a bend sable three crosses crosslet fitchee of the field.
  • Long & thin
  • (29) Bendwise one needle argent
    Long and thin is always a design problem. My survey found no examples of one thing stretched out along a bend, albeit three was common. However, with the prevalence of swords in SCA armory, this is a form of heraldic art that must be wrestled with.
  • (30) The most common period way of dealing with it.
    Pg.137, Philip Marmion: Sable, a sword erect in pale.
  • (31) More commonly, something long and thin was seen in quantity, in various arrangements.
    Pg.153, Pallat: Gules, three swords, points to the centre argent. 1348.
  • Dancetty
  • (32) A particularly intriguing period arrangement for “making it fit.”
    Pg. 101, Rees ap Griffith: Gules on a fess dancettee argent between three lyonceux passant Or as many martlets sable. 1334.
    Legible or Illegible?
  • White & yellow
  • (33) Yellow on white or vice versa is not readable at a distance. Good heraldic art should not require a black outline to be identifiable.
    Pg.162, Giles de Plays: Per pale Or and Gules, a lyon passant argent. 1297.
  • (34) Sunlight on metal shows neither silver nor gold, just “bright.” At a distance, white and yellow may be indistinguishable.
    Per bend argent & Or, 3 roses gules & 3 bees sable.
    [Aside: My survey found only one bi-colour per bend, pg.66: Robt. Deane: Per Bend sinister azure and gules, a maunch argent.]
  • (35) For SCA armory, it is better art to encourage bi-colour fields to use both a colour and a metal.
    [Aside: I found no bi-colour per bend or per pale fields with different charges in each half save for a set of impaled arms: pg.107, Thomas Hatfeld, Bishop of Durham: Ermine a chevron sable impaled on the dexter with the arms of the See of Durham, Azure a cross throughout and four lyons rampant argent. 1345.]
  • Colour vs. Colour
  • (36) How many times have you sat in the monthly meeting or at Bratchet and asked, “What is that colour?” Aside from poor colouring, it is simply a fact that there are some shades of blue that are close to black, some shades of green that are close to blue, and some shades of blue that are close to purple. That maybe the chief reason that both vert and purpure were rarely used in period. It seems also the reason that the usual couplings of two colours were Gules and Sable or Gules and Azure.
    Per pale sable and azure, 2 lions rampant addorsed Or.
  • (37) When placing a charge on a split field that uses metal and colour, the most identifiable part of the charge should be on the part of the field that provides the greatest contrast. Per pale sable and argent (and visa versa) a unicorn salient azure.
    Pg.21, Roger Bigod: Per pale Or and vert a lyon rampant gules (1298).
  • (38) What colour are the stars? Small sized charges, particularly complicated ones, can seem to change colour depending on the colour they are place upon.
    Implied by Pg.141, Bertram de Monbocher: Argent, three pitchers sable, a bordure of the second bezanty. 1300.
    [Aside: No charged metal bordures in the survey? Only one. Patrick Earl of Dunbar: Gules, a lyon rampant argent, a bordure of the second charged with roses of the first. Red is a high-contrast distinctive colour even in small quantities!]
  • Edge vs. form
  • (39) We see edges. Shapes are determined by their edges. Anything that breaks up the edge, reduces identifiability. Modern “mathematical” semys will always reduce the recognizeability of a complicated form. In period, most of the semy elements were arranged around, rather than touching, the main charge.
    Pg.31, Wm. De Braose: Azure crusily and a lion rampant Or. (1298)
  • (40) A reverse example: the bars break up the internal edges of the eagle. This is not bad heraldry but it works best when there’s but one major element to the armory.
    Pg.42 John de Castre: Azure, an eagle displayed barry argent and gules.
    Even worse? Thomas Castre: Argent, an eagle barry argent and gules.
  • (41) A rather clever period solution to “long and thin” plus a semy.
    Pg.38 W.Burdon: Azure crusily and 3 pilgrim’s staves Or.
    Variations on a Theme
  • Rayonny –or-- More is Better?
  • Modern taste sometimes go overboard with a “theme.”
    Azure within a bordure rayonny a sun Or.
    Azure within a bordure a sun Or.
  • Can I have bees and roses? –or-- I Found this Great Patterned Cloth at Thai Silks!
  • (42) Often a submitter will arrive with a possibly-registerable idea that may not be what it could be artistically or heraldically. Sometimes he hasn’t considered what it will entail in actual use over the long term. Is a semy really something he wants to draw/embroider/chase down in fabric stores?
    Pg. 26, John de Boscawen: Ermine, a rose gules
  • (43) A consulting herald trying both to please her client and educate him on heraldic art, usually has many options leading to “better heraldic art.” But the client’s tastes need to be consulted at every stage.
    Pg.65, William D’Arcy: Azure crusily and 3 cinquefoyles argent. 1345.
  • (44) Some solutions based on what a period example looks like may have hidden pitfalls.
    Pg.71, implied by Theobald Rochecourt: Sable 5 fleur de lys 2,1 and 2 in saltire Or. 1345.
  • (45) Sometimes a simplifying approach doesn’t give the client everything he wants – in this case, a colour.
    Pg.169, Henry Russell: Argent, a lyon rampant gules, on a chief sable three escallops of the first. 1455.
  • (46) Sometimes an accepted SCA convention may not fit the available research – though it is entirely acceptable and registerable. My limited survey found no examples of three things on a chief and three things on the field. Sable three roses and on a chief Or three bees sable
  • At last it comes down to simply choosing between various medieval aesthetic arrangements.
    Pg.150, Philip Oakeley: Argent, on a fess between three crescents gules as many fleurs-de-lys Or.
  • (47) Pg.26, implied by Bolron: Argent, a bend sable between 5 lozenges in chief and three picks in base sable.
  • (48) Pg.86 Filmer, Robert: Sable three bars and in chief as many cinquefoyles Or.

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